Thursday, November 19, 2009

"Out of the Wardrobe" /
The Kinks

A short post today, and the simplest of videos, because -- guess what!! -- Ray Davies is in town and I'm going to go see him tonight. I've got to go hang with my herd of other Dedicated Followers and prepare ourselves to bask in his Rayness.

Today's album is Misfits -- a lovely little LP, though not one of my Most Important Life Records. Though Misfits fits squarely in the Arista-era bid to become a Major Rock Band, Ray lets himself revert to his old quirky type on several tracks on the album. Those throwbacks to his old storyteller self are for me the redeeming glimmers in this late-70s arena rock bombast; I mine them like gold nuggets.

Naturally, the title track is in many ways my life story, but the song I can't get out of my head is "Out of the Wardrobe," a tuneful little rag about a "chick called Dick" who's a cross-dresser. But don't jump to any conclusions; this isn't "Lola Redux." "Out of the Wardrobe" is more of a domestic drama, the tale of his marriage to Betty Lou, and how they deal with his transvestite leanings.

In a lot of ways Dick and Betty Lou resemble the young couple in Something Else's "Situation Vacant"; Dick's proclivities are more like Johnny's unemployment in that earlier song -- just something the young marrieds have to get past. "You see, he's not a common place closet queen / He shouldn't be hidden, he should be seen," Ray tells us, with a delivery that suggests total sympathy, not ridicule.

Or in another verse, "He's not a faggot as you might suppose / He just feels restricted in conventional clothes." Ray Davies was hip enough to the downtown gay scene to know the difference between a drag queen and a cross-dresser, and he enjoys playing around with the irony here.

And the secret of a happy marriage is that Betty Lou understands this. She understands it so well, she herself puts on trousers and smokes a pipe. The family that plays together stays together.

It's one of Ray's few happy marriage songs, in fact. He just loves these two, and so do we. Listen to how tenderly Ray sings the crowning line: "'Cos when he puts on that dress / He looks like a princess." Add a glister of guitar and we see Dick in all his glory.

NEXT: Low Budget and "A Little Bit of Emotion"


wwolfe said...

I had this album's big cardboard wall promo from the big record store on my wall for a few years after this album came out - I just asked for it and the clerk said, "Sure, take it." My fave on this album is "In a Foreign Land," which I've always heard as the final chapter in a trilogy that included "Sunny Afternoon" and "Most Exclusive Residence For Sale." Dave's "Trust Your Heart" always moved me, as well. I deeply wish "Black Messiah" had never been conceived, written, recorded, or released, though. I don't know Ray's intentions, but the results are disconcerting, to put it gently. One of the few stains on his resume.

Alex said...

I remember loving the song "A Rock & Roll Fantasy" and buying the single, then being disappointed that one of the verses was edited out. So I bought the album to get the whole song... and found a lot to love in songs like "Misfits," "Live Life," "Permanent Waves," "Trust Your Heart," and, yeah, "Out of the Wardrobe."

Holly A Hughes said...

I agree that Trust Your Heart is one of the album's great surprises. I realize that I didn't really get into it when the album first came out -- it's really grown on me.

And I love the idea that In A Foreign Land carries on the theme of Most Exclusive Residence and Sunny Afternoon. I'd maybe add the entire Arthur album as well (and then Muswell Hillbillies, as the flip side of what deracination does to your soul....) Ray's sympathy with the tax exiles is a very complicated, thing, isn't it? After all, he had just set up residence in the US himself; I think that he's still grappling with what that meant.

If you couldn't guess, I almost wrote about "In A Foreign Land" instead -- it's a fascinating number indeed.

Anonymous said...

Ray is always inside my head...
Holly can we do Imaginary Man for the song in my head next. - Frank